September 30, 2010

Early Rehearsals

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:35 pm

Today was our fourth day of rehearsal remounting the Acting Company tour of Romeo and Juliet. Our process has begun somewhat unconventionally because our director, Penny Metropulos, is finishing up a show in Oregon and won’t be joining us until about halfway through rehearsals. But because this is a remount, Corey (our staff director from last year) and I can get our new cast up to speed on the basic structure of the show before she arrives. We also have four returning cast members who can help us, two former cast members who will help teach choreography and fights, and our original fight director, the amazing Felix Ivanoff (for a little more on Felix, see Nick’s post from last year — and we’re not crazy, he’s changed the spelling of his name since then).

We have one new major addition leading our cast through the first couple weeks: Liz Smith is our voice and text coach, and she is really great. She’s one of the most respected people in her field, but also has been working with the Acting Company since its inception nearly 40 years ago, because she was running the voice program at Juilliard when the company was founded. Her job is to help the actors in their interpretation of the script, both in technical matters like making sure they pronounce things correctly and place emphasis on the right syllables, but also in their understanding of the meaning of the text, and how an analysis of the words Shakespeare chooses can help to explain the meaning. Even our returning cast members are learning a lot of new things.

We also have the wonderful Andrew Wade returning as our voice and text coach at the Guthrie, who I miss very much, but it’s a great opportunity for the cast to draw on the talents of both of them over the course of this year.

Picture Day

One of the first things we did this week was a photo shoot. It seemed a bit premature, but venues need images to go with their publicity, and our first tour performances are less than a month away. We took a number of shots of our new Romeo and Juliet, and a group photo of the whole cast.
Don’t they look like a nice group?

They are:
back row: Whitney Hudson, Ray Chapman, Sid Solomon, Jason McDowell-Green, Kaliswa Brewster, Benjamin Rosenbaum
middle row: John Skelley, Jonathan C. Kaplan, Alejandro Rodriguez, Jamie Smithson
bottom row: Elizabeth Stahlmann, Elizabeth Grullon, Stephen Pilkington

Below is a shot of how the magic is made. Our new touring wardrobe supervisor, Mariela, adjusts Kaliswa’s hair before another round of photos. It was really cool to have them in costume on the second day of rehearsal. I think stuff like that early in the rehearsal process always makes the experience more real. We hadn’t even read the play at that point, but already we’re made aware that someday there will be a finished product and these pictures are very close to being seen by people, who will be inspired to spend their money on tickets and will have their butts in seats ready to be entertained when we come to their town very soon. It reinforces the importance of all the messing around in jeans and sneakers, walking between lines of colored tape. It will be real before we know it.

We spent a day-and-a-half on table work. The script has been cut a bit since last year. The hope is that we have eliminated 10 or 15 minutes, to make it easier for schools to attend the show and talkbacks afterwards. The running time of the first read-through was much improved. Obviously that doesn’t always translate to the finished product, but it’s a good sign.

Hooray for Skype

Yesterday we had a video conference with Penny. The internet at her house had been having trouble, but she soon found a spot where the video signal was good enough to make it work. There was a slight delay, which seemed to get better as we went on, so it wasn’t as fluid a conversation as it would have been in person, but the video wasn’t choppy, and she was able to speak to the cast for a while, and ask what we had been working on, and then everybody in the room stepped close to the camera and introduced themselves and what they’re doing on the production. I think it must be very helpful for her and the new people on the production to put a living, breathing, talking face to the other people they’ll be collaborating with.

As Skype conferences go, I considered it a great success (which is not really saying much). We knew she might have connection problems and had planned that we might have to do audio only if the bandwidth wasn’t good enough, so I’m just happy we got intelligible video, even if it was a bit like watching a TV journalist reporting in by satellite.

I also was able to borrow some cheap computer speakers from the office which were more than loud enough to let everybody in the room hear. That’s usually the main problem with full-company conference calls for me. The MacBook Pro speakers don’t do well if you’re not sitting right near the computer.


Today we finished our table work earlier than expected, and after lunch began staging! Meaghan and I were caught a little bit off-guard, but we jumped in, and everything went pretty well. All I can say is that I’m glad I got in a little early and put most of the furniture spike marks down before rehearsal.

Recreating an exact production is something new for me, so I’m excited to try it. We began with the prologue, which doesn’t really leave a lot of room for personal exploration, blocking-wise. It’s very much an “enter at this time, hit this mark, talk, and exit this way” type of thing. You are umbrella number 12. You will be assimilated. The cast did very well. They seem to be picking up on the ground plan quickly. It may help a lot that some of them saw the production, and there are many photos available of what the set looks like.

When they got that down, we continued staging onward. We quickly hit the first brawl, and sketched out the basic shape of it, without actually addressing detailed fight choreography. So everybody pretty much understands what’s happening, what weapons they have, where they go, and who they fight with. Then we let most of the cast go, and finished the day with the following scenes between Montague and Benvolio and Benvolio and Romeo, which are both more free-form, and in fact changed blocking numerous times (much to my dismay) during the rehearsal process. Corey pretty much let the actors feel it out, but it was actually really fascinating to see some very surprising similarities pop up on their own.

I hope that we can continue to strike a good balance between recreating the previous production while letting our new actors feel like they’ve been given ownership of their roles.

Tomorrow is our dance and fight choreography day, and we also have some scene work happening. I’m actually really intrigued to see how well we can all collectively put the huge puzzle of the party scene back together.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment